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Proofreaders Versus Editors



Lauren McGaha: Welcome to Consider This. I’m Lauren McGaha.

Holly Fong: And I’m Holly Fong. Today we are going to be talking about the process of working with an editor and the importance of that process, and also the different dynamics that come out of that process. So it’s going to be set up a little differently. I’m going to ask Lauren a few questions about why she thinks editors are important and things like that. And then I guess I’ll have some input as well as she speaks.

Lauren McGaha: You don’t have to sounds so skeptical, as if editors are important.

Holly Fong: No, they are very important. So why don’t we start with the first question, which is: Why are editors important?

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. You know, I wanted to talk about this in greater detail today because I think we talk a lot about how to structure our content marketing plan if you hate to write. Essentially, how do we make the most efficient use of your time if you don’t feel like you’re a natural writer? And so if you’re coming from that camp, then you probably aren’t really resisting the role of the editor by any means. But I also work with several firms who do fancy themselves writers and are really great writers. And I find that the editing role is still critically important there as well. Really, the value of an editor doesn’t really have that much to do with how good of a writer you are. I think that’s surprising for some people, so I wanted to take some time to dive into this subject today just to kind of unpack that a little bit.

To answer your question as far as: Why is an editor valuable? I think first and foremost, an editor is really valuable because it helps you get out of your own head. You know, it’s really easy to just sort of, kind of develop something that in your own mind you’ve got a vision for what the argument for this article’s going to be, or what the most important thing that needs to be expressed inside of this piece of content is. But your understanding of that subject matter is so much deeper than the person who’s going to be consuming that content, that it can be really difficult to take a step back objectively and truly evaluate whether or not the point you intended to make was clearly made.

Holly Fong: Yeah. So it’s a subjective opinion essentially, on the content that you’ve provided, which is going to make sense to yourself because you wrote it, obviously. And whatever your intention might’ve been could’ve gotten away from you during that writing process.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. We’re just not in a great position to evaluate that from our own perspective. I think it’s a difficult task. Not that you can’t self edit, but I think it’s a lot easier to self edit really from a grammatical standpoint, or kind of a copy editing standpoint where it’s a little bit more formulaic. Oh, do I have a run on sentence here? Or am I using that comma in the right way? Or did I spell these things correctly? Things like that versus, if I’m somebody outside of my own mind, does this make sense? And an editor is going to be able to make that calculation and provide objective feedback, whereas because you are the person who developed that content, it’s impossible for you to do that as well.

Holly Fong: Yeah. This brings us to our next question because I think a lot of people when they think of editors, think of copywriting.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah.

Holly Fong: Right? Is a comma supposed to be there? Just getting an extra set of eyes on those types of things. But in addition to that, what is the editor’s role then? Is it exactly what you just described?

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. I mean, I think when you’re selecting, when you’re thinking about the role of the editor on the team, I think it has to be somebody who really understands the vision for the piece of content that’s being developed. So they should have an understanding of what the intended audience is, either because they work inside of your organization and therefore they’re delivering on services that are relevant to that audience, so they understand that market. Or they’ve worked with you enough that you’ve been able to communicate to them exactly what that audience cares about so that they’re very closely tied to that audience that the particular content is intended for, so that when they go to read the content, they are doing it through the lens of what they understand about the market. And they’re able to say, “Okay. Well, based on these factors that I understand about this particular audience persona, these things need to be communicated a little bit more clearly or in a little bit more detail because it’s not coming through.” The editor’s job is not simply to make sure that everything is grammatically correct, although that can be helpful too. The editor’s job is to make sure the content is strategically sound.

Holly Fong: So with that in mind, out of curiosity, what do you think of editors that are outside of the firm itself?

Lauren McGaha: I think that can work fine if the editor is involved in the development of the strategy. I think that speaks to, I think another question we’re going to get to, but I’ll go ahead and reference it now. But it speaks to: When do you bring the editor in? Because if you are designing the content strategy with this person in isolation, they haven’t been brought in really at all, they don’t understand the target persona. They don’t understand the messaging strategy or really the capabilities of the firm. That’s going to be difficult for that editor to weigh in with any sort of authority on whether or not that strategy was met because they weren’t involved in the creation of it. So I think it has to do … You can certainly hire an editor outside of the organization.
We do that all the time for our clients. We are our clients’ strategic editors and we don’t understand their industries like they understand their industries, but we are deeply involved in the development of the strategy itself. We do all of the persona work with them and we design the messaging strategy with them. So we’re intimately familiar with those foundational elements of their content plan, which puts us in a unique position to be able to effectively yet objectively evaluate the content.

Holly Fong: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. It’s also interesting because I think some people could think that technology, if you were thinking of an editor just being in place for grammar reasons or for a proofread, that technology like the Grammarly plugin or something like that could be in place of an editor. But all those points that you’re bringing up really make sense for why you would need an individual person to be an extra set of eyes on that content.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. The human factor goes a long way with an editor, I think, for sure. It’s funny. I praised the Grammarly tool on this podcast months ago, like last year sometime. And I don’t really like it that much anymore. It catches a lot, but sometimes I really don’t agree with what it recommends. And I think I’m convinced that Grammarly doesn’t know how commas work, as an aside.

Holly Fong: I’ve been wondering that because I’m like, “This is how commas work,” so I thought it learned something new, but then I was like, “That seems like a weird pause, or that doesn’t seem like that’s in the right spot.”

Lauren McGaha: I find myself overriding Grammarly all the time. The other thing, just kind of going off on this tangent for the human perspective in editing, I think it also helps because everybody’s style guide is going to be a little bit different and your editor understands that. So some people, it can be the most basic kind of information like, we spell white paper with two words, or we capitalize this word and sometimes we don’t, or whatever. We choose not to use these types of words because it doesn’t fit our brand personality, et cetera. Those style guides are obviously going to be customized from organization to organization. And any sort of technological tool is going to have a hard time applying those very specific rules to the content overall, so you’re still going to need to put a pair of human eyes on it at some point.

Holly Fong: Yeah. The problem I have with Grammarly is, it’s going to look for spelling errors, which I make plenty of. But sometimes I’ll tell me-

Lauren McGaha: I was about to call you out. She’s going to claim that she doesn’t need Grammarly.

Holly Fong: No, I need it. I have the paid version.

Lauren McGaha: Grammarly Pro.

Holly Fong: Sometimes it will tell me the wrong word because I so horribly spell it that it gives me a totally different word than I intend, which also makes sense because it’s not necessarily understanding the context of the sentence, which also goes to show it doesn’t understand the context of the article, or who that article’s for, or any of those things that are really important.

Lauren McGaha: Which is the fundamental role of the editor. The most important role of the editor has nothing to do with the copy editing side of this. The most important role has to do with the strategic editing. Is this targeting the right person? Is the messaging strategy on point? Are the concepts that are being discussed and presented here, are they clear? Could they be made better? Is there a seedling of something that the author wrote that the editor can think and grow and shape that the original author wouldn’t have thought to because in their mind, it’s so solidified in this one way? But you bring in another voice to help inspire the author to think about things in a different way. Ultimately, that’s going to be a better piece of content through that collaboration.

Holly Fong: Definitely. So will all of this in mind, what type of person is really best suited to be an editor?

Lauren McGaha: I think somebody, again, if you’re looking inside of your organization, I think it’s somebody who has enough visibility into the market of the firm. I mean, that’s important, so to understand. Who are we actually going after? And to have an informed opinion about that, and oftentimes, to be in a place to shape those conversations is helpful. So at the very least, they need to be well informed about what the marketing strategy is for the organization. And somebody who’s detail oriented is helpful because there is a copy editing component to this, so being able to apply styles guides consistently week over week and month over month and content item over content item is really important. Somebody who feels empowered to give critique, so somebody who is able to, no matter who it is that was the author of this particular piece of content, they’re going to look at it then the author gives no weight to what they are going to make recommendations about.
Yeah. It’s somebody who can be really thoughtful about how to look at the concept that’s being discussed inside of the content item and think about … Creatively think, “Is there a better way to more clearly communicate or demonstrate this point to this audience?” So they don’t have to be the ones doing the wordsmithing, but they should be creative thinkers. And I think the creative component of their personality coupled with their deep understanding of the market puts them in a unique position to be able to provide more meaningful feedback to the original author than say, somebody who’s just looking for grammatical errors.

Holly Fong: Definitely.

Lauren McGaha: What do you think?

Holly Fong: I think that all of those are important points that often get skipped. When I think about who firms maybe typically identify as editors, I think they’re looking at: Well, who has time on their hands? Similar to who’s involved with the thought leadership at the company. They might be thinking about: Who has time to proofread this?

Lauren McGaha: Right. Yeah, that’s a great point.

Holly Fong: And that’s very different from what you’ve described here. And I am curious when it comes to our content interaction with clients because we are doing a lot of editing for them. Do they also have an internal editor that we’re recommending?

Lauren McGaha: Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. A lot of times they have somebody who’s sort of spearheading the content marketing initiative internally at the firm level, so they’re kind of coordinating a bunch of stuff. And they’re the mainline of … Not the mainline of defense, but they are the point person when it comes to liaising between their firm and Newfangled. And so they tend to review all the content before it gets published. But mostly just to make sure that they’re up to speed with what content that firm is putting out.

But to your point, it’s really interesting when we work with firms initially and they know. We tell them. We tell them the sales process. Part of the scope of this is, we’re going to read everything. We’re going to provide editorial feedback. And I try and go into a lot of detail there, not exhaustive detail, but I try and communicate to the client, look, this is not copy editing. This means that we’re reading this content through the lens of the strategy. So we really understand your personas. We understand the messaging strategy, the bicycle stages this is targeting, all of that stuff. And so when we provide edits, it’s about how you can sharpen the language. It’s about how you can refine that headline. It’s about how you can make this point a lot more clear. It’s about those types of things. It’s not like, insert a period here because this is a run on sentence.

And they are always surprised when they get their first rounds of edits back because they don’t … I think it’s that proofreading concept you were just describing. They don’t see the editorial role as something of substance, and it really is. It takes a lot of time to be an editor.

Holly Fong: Well, it’s interesting too because the way that we’re presenting this content online, it’s also important that there are strategic recommendations made for the way it’s framed on the website also, which not everyone who can proofread an article has the expertise to do as well, so that’s another component that I think is really important when you think about posting this content online.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. To even go even more specific on that, we know that there are certain ways that people consume content on the internet today. Right? And so to that point, you might have a really wonderful article, but a lot of authors, they really enjoy kind of waxing poetic about this particular subject that they’re really inspired by. But people on the internet like to skim. They look a good headline. They like some bullet points. And so we don’t want to turn it into … We don’t want to break the content apart so much that it doesn’t feel inspiring and creative at the same time. We’ve got to play to what we know works. And we know this works because we’ve done it for dozens and dozens and dozens of firms at this point. We’ve seen. We’ve observed what works.

Holly Fong: Yeah. It’s not even just the people who are consuming that online, but also what the search engines are looking for when they’re identifying which articles they’re going to show on the SERPS and the search engine results pages. So I think that’s an important component that is different from an editor who might be helping with something like a book. I don’t know.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s an important distinction.

Holly Fong: Yeah. You kind of alluded to this earlier, but you didn’t fully answer the question, which is: When should you bring in an editor into the process?

Lauren McGaha: I was avoiding you.

Holly Fong: Well, you brought the question up yourself.

Lauren McGaha: Right. So when should you bring an editor into the process? I think the sooner the better, the earlier the better. So I like to recommend that editors are a part of the persona development process when you’re creating the initial strategy. During that time when you’re creating the strategy, you probably have a sense of who the marketing team members are going to be. Go ahead and think about who would make a good editor. Don’t let it be an afterthought because that person should be deeply familiar, as I mentioned, with who the personas are and what the messaging strategy is and what the buying stages of those personas are, et cetera, what the goals of the content plan are. The more information that this individual has, the more context they have to be working with them when they’re reading and trying to decide how effective a piece of content really is.

Holly Fong: That makes sense. It also makes sense that they be empowered to be able to provide those recommendations, whereas, if you bring them in too late in the process and they don’t understand those things, then they probably do default to doing proofreading, essentially.

Lauren McGaha: Or a good editor would at least … They would probably go back to the author and have to get a little bit more clarity before they could truly weigh in because they felt like they didn’t have the necessary information to do so well. But then that’s going to take a lot more time. And a big challenge of content marketing is figuring out how to do it efficiently, make the best use of everybody’s time. If you bring the editor in early, even though they’re spending more of their time getting up to speed on what the strategy is, ultimately I think it’s going to be more efficient for the author, because the author’s not spending time for each article bringing that editor back up to speed as to what the strategy was.

Holly Fong: Yeah. When we talk about bringing them in, I know for us for example, we talk with our editor before we even write the piece of content. So that would be when you’re thinking about just an individual piece, a good time, it sounds like, to make sure they’re in the loop that, hey, I’m writing this piece. This is who it’s for. This is kind of the outline. And get their perspective at that point, and then write it and send it back to them.

Lauren McGaha: Well, and it’s really great. MJ here at Newfangled, she’s our content strategist and she’s our editor. What’s great about having her in our topic ideation sessions is that she’s really informed as we’re all throwing out topics to say from an editorial perspective if we’re checking all the boxes we intend to. So we have a certain messaging strategy that’s outlined and we have certain targets that we’re trying to hit relatively equally throughout the quarter. And when we’re in the room and we’re ideating, and I think a lot of the firms listening can probably understand this, when you get into an ideation session, it’s really fun and creative.

And you start throwing out all these ideas and everybody gets excited. And you go off on little tangents and it’s really fun. But you need somebody in the room whose job it is to bring you back to the strategic source of truth to kind of bring you down from the creative high, so to speak, so that you are actually honoring the strategy that you all intended to execute upon when you went into that session. So that’s a big part of what her role is, making sure that the topics that ultimately get assigned from the very beginning, they’re targeting the right personas that we want to target, and they’re hitting the messaging strategies we want to target.

Holly Fong: Yeah. That’s interesting. With all that said, what really makes a good editor versus a bad editor? Talk to me about the bad editors.

Lauren McGaha: The bad editors. I mean, that might be an interesting to approach this question. I don’t know. I mean, a bad editor … A bad editor, that’s so negative. I think what I really, I really like the comment that you made a few minutes ago. It’s almost like a … maybe that’s the title of the episode, Proofreaders Versus Editors, or something along those lines. I think there’s a real distinction there. Don’t you think?

Holly Fong: Yeah. Anything I say is usually just-

Lauren McGaha: Gold.

Holly Fong: Pure brilliance.

Lauren McGaha: We talk about the difference between an excellent editor and a subpar editor. I really do think it comes down to somebody who has the information related to the strategy, who is empowered to make editorial recommendations and decisions regardless of who the author is, who has a perspective, has a voice. So if they’re too passive, or if they’re apathetic about the content, as proofreaders can be, because it’s really just about: Hey, is this structurally okay? Is this meeting standard AP style guides? Are we going to embarrass ourselves by publishing it? No? Great. A real strategic editor, they’ve got a stake in it. They really care about the organization. They really care about how effective this piece of content is going to be and they see their role as essential, critical to the success of that particular piece of content. I don’t know.

Holly Fong: Well, it sounds like that person has to have a backbone.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. They do. They’ve got to be assertive enough to do it. But what I’m describing too is, they need to be invested. You know? Don’t you think?

Holly Fong: Invested enough to be able to understand the strategy and understand how the content applies to that strategy, which someone who’s looking at it from just: Is this written correctly? Or if they’re proofreading, essentially.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. Grammatically correct.

Holly Fong: Yeah.

Lauren McGaha: The word you’re looking for there.

Holly Fong: Can’t speak today. Versus-

Lauren McGaha: But everything else has been total brilliance.

Holly Fong: Just X that out. Versus someone who’s really looking-

Lauren McGaha: Leaving it in. Sorry. Okay. I’m going to let you talk.

Holly Fong: Versus someone who’s really invested in the content and in the message of the company is very different I think.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. It’s funny. I’ve never quite described it like that before. But I think that is very true. And if you’re listening and you’re kind of running through a Rolodex of individuals at your firm who you’re thinking. Who could make a good editor? Think of the people who have a passion for your business, who are really invested in the business and would see this role as critical to the success of the marketing because this role should be bestowed upon this person with that sort of gravity. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean it in a very positive way that this role is essential to the success of a big part of the digital marketing strategy and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Holly Fong: Definitely. Those are all great points, so I think we should take a quick break because I need to figure out how to talk.

Lauren McGaha: She’s going to take a few quiet minutes and then come back. Sounds good.

You’re listening to Consider This, a podcast designed to unpack common misconceptions of content marketing today. If you like what you’re hearing, be sure to find us on iTunes and give us a positive rating and leave a review. If you’ve got a content marketing question, you can send it to us via Twitter at Consider This Pod, email us at, or submit your question through Facebook. And now, back to the show.

Holly Fong: Sorry. I don’t know what’s going on with my mouth.

Lauren McGaha: And we’re back. Thanks for listening. So we are going to shift this a little bit. I’m curious, Holly, from your perspective. You’re part of our marketing team. You’ve contributed across a lot of different content types at Newfangled over the years. You’ve been on webinars. You’ve been on podcasts. You’ve written blog posts, et cetera. I’m curious what the editorial experience has just been like for you as somebody who’s contributed across a lot of different platforms. What have you found works well when you’re working with an editor? And is there anything that you can think of that maybe wasn’t that helpful?

Holly Fong: Yeah. That’s a great question. I love having an editor, first. And I think one of the reasons that I really appreciate having an editor is that I know that writing isn’t necessarily my strong suit for how I can contribute to the site, but I still know that certain articles that I write are important and needed in a written format that is an article.

Lauren McGaha: Right. You have expertise and the vehicle happens to be something in a written format.

Holly Fong: Yeah. And it’s necessary for me to have an editor for multiple reasons. But what I find extremely helpful is when editors will really dig in and identify not something that’s simple like, Holly, you spelled that wrong, which they need to do that. That’s very important. But also, identify if maybe there’s a part of what I’ve written that should be inserted into a different area in the article. So really look at the flow of the article because when you’re in your own head, and you’re writing something, it sometimes sounds, or looks, or reads a lot different to the person who’s consuming it than the person who’s writing it. And so I think suggestions along those lines are really helpful, also suggestions as far as, “Holly, that might be a little technical for the person who’s reading this.” Let’s find a way to describe that.

Lauren McGaha: Do you ever bristle at those comments? Is there ever any tension between…?

Holly Fong: No, I don’t. I know that certain people do. I think I don’t have a very large ego, so I can take those comments and I also know, like I had stated, that I don’t think that’s my strong suit. So for me, it’s necessary and it’s helpful and I expect that. I’m usually actually surprised sometimes when it’s not all red ink all over anything I write. But I certainly don’t think that’s the case for everyone.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. I’ve observed that a couple of times with clients that they either … and oftentimes, it’s funny. It’s usually internally between them and an editor in-house in their firm. There’s this tension that will crop up between the author and the editor. And I think that can be mitigated by setting expectations really early on that an editor is not a proofreader, and letting the authors know, no matter how skilled you are at this, you’re probably going to get something back that’s got substantial recommendations to it and you should really see it as a collaboration between yourself and the editor. This is not your baby. This is a collaborative piece.

Holly Fong: Yeah and I think going into it and expecting that only half the work is done, versus the opposite, which is, this is done and someone just needs to read it and then put it on the site, is very different. So when I submit something, I’m usually thinking of it as, okay, I’m 50% of the way done and they’re going to tell me that I need to redo all these things and I’m going to make those edits because I respect their role in this process.

Lauren McGaha: Or they’re going to be able to illuminate areas where you’re going to have to do some more thinking. And I think that’s also where some of the tension comes from because a lot of people, you put a lot of energy into developing the content, so it’s hard when somebody comes back and they say, “This is unclear, maybe for these reasons. But I’m not exactly sure how to solve it. Can you go back and look at this and think through it?”

Holly Fong: It opens a whole can of worms that you weren’t expecting.

Lauren McGaha: I just spent so much … No. It’s fine. Just publish it. So yeah, I think that’s probably where some of the tension comes. And it’s understandable, but again, I think to your point, I think setting that expectation that when you finish a draft, it is just that. It’s just a draft and you should expect some recommendations.

Holly Fong: And if you have a good editor, there should be solid recommendations. You know what I mean? If it comes back and there’s really not much on it, I would wonder how efficiently that editor has looked at that, or how thoroughly.

Lauren McGaha: And that could be deflating for the other … If we swing the pendulum the other way, that could be deflating for the author too because you put a lot of effort and energy into this and you come back with no feedback. It might kind of feel a little deflating.

Holly Fong: Yeah. I think it probably depends on that person to the point we made earlier, some people are probably like, “Great. I knew I was brilliant.” But if you go into it expecting that feedback and expecting someone to help you finish that article, versus thinking it’s finished, it’s a different mindset going into it.

Lauren McGaha: Do you enjoy working with an editor for other types of content? We mentioned earlier that MJ is involved, or even pre-MJ it was somebody else. But we’ve had editors involved earlier in the process where when we’re batting around ideas, that person is sort of inserting themselves into the conversation and kind of helping shape what the outline for that piece is going to be, whether it’s an article, or whether it’s, say, a webinar. What has that experience been like for you in that capacity?

Holly Fong: I think that’s really important because I’m definitely a big picture thinker. So if I don’t have someone there who’s kind of nudging me to say, “Okay. Well, how does that apply to our audience? Or really who is this for? Or what stage is it?” Then that message can get away from me, I think. So I’m fine with it. Again, I don’t have a large ego and it really helps me to have people to bounce ideas off of. But I think also, my mindset is going into it looking for someone else’s input when it comes to some of those ideas.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. Yeah. I think that summarizes it pretty well. Big picture, editors are really useful, and I think their role is commonly misunderstood. But when you’ve got a good editor in place and they’re doing the right things, the quality of the content is definitely going to be elevated. With that, I think we can wrap. This has been good. If you have any questions about this subject in particular, send them our way. If you have questions about something that you’d like us to talk about on a future episode, that’s always helpful and we get that feedback from you.

But this can be a touchy subject. And so if you’re curious about how to think about an editor inside of your organization and whether or not the roles that you … The responsibilities of your “editor” inside of your firm are outlined and if they could be optimized, let us know. You can email us at If you like the show, recommend it to your friends and colleagues. Definitely go to iTunes and rate us and leave a review. We are eager to hear how you’re enjoying things and what you’d like to hear about coming up. So let us know.

Holly Fong: The only thing I was going to add to that is also, if you want to personally connect with us on LinkedIn or anything like that, feel free to do so. I’ve had a few listeners that have, and it’s always good to be able to connect.

Lauren McGaha: And expand that network.

Holly Fong: Exactly.

Lauren McGaha: Cool. Yeah, definitely. Thanks so much for listening. This has been fun, and we will catch up in two weeks.

Holly Fong: Thanks.